When an Apple a Day isn’t Enough: Preventative Health in a Community Model Part 1

We have all heard the phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away;” but modern medicine tells us that keeping the doctor away is not the best way to prevent sickness. Diet and exercise are important components of a healthy life, but so are regular check-ups and screenings with a physician.

This is the cornerstone belief of the Wellness program at Star C, named Willow Wellness for the premier community of Star C, Willow Branch Apartments.

The purpose of Willow Wellness is to ensure that every resident has access to medical care, visits his or her primary care provider (PCP) at least annually, and has a plan for how to pay for it. Within the American healthcare system, this implies that every person has health insurance (or an equivalent plan).

In 2014, Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health students performed a community wide survey, a needs assessment complete with focus groups and interviews, and extensive research to understand the health related needs and desires of Willow Branch residents, as well as the existing healthcare resources in the Clarkston and Dekalb area.

We learned that about half of the residents have health insurance or Medicaid (mostly children), and about half lack coverage of any kind (mostly adults). We also noted that there are a number of available healthcare resources in the immediate and surrounding area, so any lack of medical care on behalf of the residents is not due to a lack of physicians or clinics. Of the residents we interact with on a regular basis at Willow Wellness, only a fraction of them have visited the doctor in the last year.

There are three main reasons why residents don’t go to the doctor:

1. They can’t afford it. Residents who can’t afford to go to the doctor may not be able to afford a monthly insurance premium. If they are uninsured, they may not be able to afford a self-pay visit even at a sliding scale clinic. Out of all the barriers to medical care that we have asked residents about, finances were the most common reason.

2. They don’t know how to navigate the system. As we all know, the American healthcare system is highly complex. This complexity poses a great challenge to those who are new to this country and don’t speak English as their first language. There are a number of residents who have health insurance, but are at a loss when it comes to finding a physician in their plan, scheduling appointments and getting referrals. These barriers often keep residents from accessing any medical care until it’s an emergency situation.

3. They don’t think it’s important. Many people operate under the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Why should anyone go to the doctor if he isn’t sick? A number of residents don’t appreciate the importance of preventative healthcare in the form of physicals, check-ups, and screenings, simply because of a lack of education on the subject.

We are working diligently to empower our residents to access affordable, preventative medical care. Stay tuned for Part II to learn more…


Photo Credit: Michael Verhoef via Flickr

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